Life Lessons 13 : “Focus On The Long Term” – Adedotun Sulaiman

There are many paths to career success. Some believe that you would rise faster and garner experiences quickly if you switch jobs, especially when they are not in related sectors. Adedotun Sulaiman, Chairman of Interswitch, typifies the other path, building a career around a single organisation. With the help of a mentor, Dick Kramer, Sulaiman stayed glued to Arthur Andersen/Andersen Consulting/Accenture for 32 years, and, in the process, he has become a force to reckon with in the consulting business in Africa. You would enjoy his notes on the journey and his life lessons.

Lessons 1
Career: Hard work pays.
I worked in a professional services firm that attracted very bright people which provided very good training and only reasonably well-paid. The firm was a veritable hunting ground for talents; many organisations paid a premium to lure people away from Arthur Andersen. But I never got distracted or tempted to leave. The result was that I had my entire career with one entity from 1978 to 2010. What I learnt, therefore, is that if you do one thing and you do it very well you will get very good at it and be hard to beat. Another thing which I learnt from Dick Kramer, my boss then, is that hard work pays. It always does. We were lucky to work in an environment that was based purely on merit.

Focus on the long term.
The other thing I learnt from Dick is focus on the long term. Dick would always tell us that life is not a 100-metre dash, but a marathon. It is not how you started, but how you finished. So, in everything you do, think of the end. What that teaches you is having much patience, perseverance and doggedness. Once you are focused on your objectives and goals, even when all kinds of challenges come, that focus on your objective is what keeps you going. So, you are mission-driven, and that sets the agenda for all other things you do in life.
Again, something we learnt from Dick is that there is always a trade off between being an ‘inch wide and a mile deep’ and being a ‘mile wide and an inch deep’. It is a tradeoff between breadth and width. I chose depth.
Lesson 2
Money & investment: Don’t invest in what you don’t know.
One of my golden rules for investment is that I don’t invest in anything I don’t know much about. If it is too esoteric, specialized, and is not in my area of expertise, I just won’t go there. I invest in things that I know at least a little about. My motivation for investment has never really been about the money. I am motivated more by a desire to use my knowledge, experience, contacts and relationships to help a younger person to get ahead. It is, therefore, not an accident that most of my investments are with young entrepreneurs and start ups. I will give them a bit of money, but more valuable than the money I give them are my time, access to me and my network, hand-holding them, and mentoring them.

Lesson 3
Business Principles: There are no shortcuts to success in business.
In business there are things I call universal truths. Number one is that hard work pays. The second is that there are no shortcuts; if you try to short circuit it you miss something. One of the things I learnt growing up under Dick is that growing up in life is like climbing a ladder, you have to go through every rung of the ladder. If you skip any step, you can’t come back to climb it. It is the same thing with business; it doesn’t happen in a hurry. You learn, make mistakes, apply lessons from your mistakes, get better, and you keep getting better and better. Nothing good comes easy. If it is too easy it is probably not real and will not last or endure.

Lesson 4
Attitude to money: I am not driven by money.
I never spend all my money. Never. I also live within my means and don’t indulge in consumption patterns or lifestyle I cannot sustain. Consequently, I don’t know what it is like to be broke. While I will continue to invest, I do have a few indulgences, like my investment in a fairly substantial art collection of mostly Nigerian and African Art. But basically, money doesn’t mean that much to me. Money, for me, is a measure of the reward that you get if you do something right. What it does for me basically apart from meeting basic needs, is the confidence it provides that you can meet your needs and a few luxuries within reasonable limits, and of course, the absence of anxiety about not being able to meet them. The more money you have, the more you should realise that you don’t really need that much to live a decent life. Beyond that, money should be used to do good, to touch lives of the less-privileged or less- endowed. I believe I will do well with a lot of money, but will also do as well, be happy, and content with very little money. I don’t think money can ever change my essence.

Lesson 5
Relationship: I don’t have former friends.
Friendship for me is very easy. I will not call myself a particularly friendly or outgoing person. I tend to be reserved and quite shy; I am not the natural cocktail party or life-of-the-party type. I do have a number of very good friends, many of them dating back to my secondary school and University days. I don’t have many friends. In fact, I can count my good friends on my fingers. For me it is more about quality than about number.
Also important is you must invest in relationships. You do that through service to your community, building goodwill, what you may call an emotional bank account where you are always depositing. You may need to withdraw from time to time, but you must always be in credit so that if and when you need it, it is there.

Lesson 6
Health: Moderation does it.
My principle is moderation in all things. There is nothing I don’t do; there is nothing I don’t eat, but everything in moderation. I am a social drinker; l don’t drink hard liquor or spirits. Occasionally, I take a glass or two mostly shared with a friend or friends. Even if I have a house full of wines, I will never open a bottle and drink on my own. It has to be when I have guests or friends to share it with. I tend to have the bad habit to not eat breakfast, not because I don’t like it but because I sleep late and wake up late. Usually there is not enough time for me to eat a hearty breakfast. So, I just take a glass of yogurt or mixed fruits. I generally don’t eat lunch. Hence my major meal is dinner usually around 7p.m at home. I hardly sleep before midnight.
In terms of health I will say I have been blessed and lucky. I have never had any health issue. The only medicine I take are my daily vitamin supplements and baby aspirin. I also actively watch my weight; I keep my weight at between 64 and 66 kilos. I try to be very active and avoid a sedentary lifestyle.

Lesson 7
Spirituality: Focus on doing good.
For me I will describe myself as a spiritual person but not religious. First of all, I believe there is God. I don’t believe that we are completely in charge of our fate or fully responsible for our destiny so that whatever we do or become, we cannot take the full credit for it. I believe we are all here for a purpose. I think the trick of life and success is to find one’s purpose, that ‘thing’ for which we are here and to fulfill that purpose in one’s lifetime. A lot of the great religions, especially Christianity and Islam, put much emphasis on the hereafter. For me I don’t dwell on or worry too much about the hereafter. I don’t know whether there is, indeed, a hereafter or not but my fundamental belief is that the best qualification for any hereafter is how we live the here and now. Therefore, I cannot believe that anyone who does well here will not gain admittance to the hereafter, into that paradise.
For me religion is meant to be lived every day and should reflect or manifest in the way you relate to your fellow man and other God’s creations. For me the best way to serve God is to serve man. I have tried to live my fundamental beliefs as best as I can. We are all human; we have our failings and frailties. My driving and abiding principle is that you should do as much good as possible in your lifetime so that when your balance sheet is drawn by God, the good that we did will far outweigh the bad and the not-so-good things that we will necessarily do because of our humanness.

Best advice
I will say I have been lucky. One of the best things that have happened to me is working for Dick Kramer. One of the things he used to tell us in those days was that the harder you work, the luckier you become. He believes that what we call luck is actually not luck, but being prepared, working for it, and being ready to grab it when the opportunity comes.
1. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen Covey
2. In Search of Excellence Tom Peters



3Friendship/Networking Skills10710th
5Significance/Giving back1081st


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